Baja Stories - Writers Corner Contributions from Our Forum Members

Old 05-10-09, 11:11 PM   #1
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Default Art, Culture and Language... Outside Your Comfort Zone?

Don't Believe that You Need Spanish to Assimilate in Mexico?

Participating in online forums and blogs allows me the opportunity to share information, ideas and experiences with folks from diverse backgrounds and on a wide variety of subjects. It’s a regular “brain breather” I take between the 10 to 12 hours I spend daily on my computer with my work. You would think I’d want to get away from the thing in those moments but I suppose that it’s part of my genetic makeup and a disease that Cristina diagnosed long ago. I am definitely terminally infected with all the keyboard characters permanently tattooed in reverse on my finger tips after 30 years and billions of keystrokes.

Trust me on this one, I have counted.

In one of the blogs that is frequented by Gringos living here south of the border a new member posted a question looking for some help to connect with the local art and music community. The topic is one of particular interest for me and so I jumped in with all ten fingers. The subject became a hot one and it was quite evident what limited knowledge many of the local Gringos have about the cultural community and resources available here south of the border. In the debate that followed I could see that the real battle line was drawn along the ability to communicate and more precisely, the willingness to step outside of your personal comfort zone.

Mexican hospitality is famous world over and on the Baja California peninsula they have made it exceptionally easy for us Gringos to enjoy the local playground of activities and adventure without ever needing to learn a single word of Spanish. Restaurants, hotels, golf courses, resorts, spas, shops, bars, clubs, gas stations, movie theaters, wine tasting, fish taco stands, doctors, dentists, markets and more – all with someone ready and willing to step up and help you. Their English might not be perfect but a conversation is forged and the objective is almost always accomplished. I have heard some Gringos living here remark that they forget sometimes that they are in a foreign country. I have personally met many Gringos that have never learned more than a few words of Spanish, in spite of many years residing here on the peninsula. You cannot only survive, you can live, work and enjoy the lifestyle that has attracted so many of us to this beautiful slice of the Pacific coastline without ever learning a single word of Spanish. It is a credit to the wonderful people, native to this region and who serve as our generous and gracious hosts.

That having been said, my only question would be why would you want to?

Friends are one of life’s great blessings and since moving here years ago my circle has grown to include many in the local art and music community. Hardly a day goes by without receiving at least one invitation to an event, concert or exhibit here along Baja’s northern coast. Being the practical one that I am, invitations that also mention food or wine always seem to get moved up to the top of my social calendar. Going through my emails and web links I was able to put together several hundred links to local artists, poets, musicians, galleries, museums, exhibits, operas, street fairs, concerts, theater and much more.

After removing the outdated ones I sorted them alphabetically and posted over two hundred links online. Many of the forum members thanked me for the information but I also received just as many questioning why I included so many websites that are in Spanish? The question made me consider going back and provide some translation service to my online friends but after giving it some thought I realized that wouldn’t be the best answer I could give.

Part of what makes this region so culturally unique is deep rooted in the Spanish language, often referred to as the language of romance and love. Mexico has the largest Spanish speaking population in the world and is spoken throughout Latin America and Spain. Spanish is the second most-widely spoken language in France, Italy, Portugal and Brazil, as well as the United States. Sharing a Latin-based link with English, learning to speak, read and write in Spanish is not as difficult as you might think. Some will surely argue, reminding me of the old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Animal Planet and personal experience have taught me that old wives tale just isn’t true.

Learning a new language is a stimulating experience and the ability to think, dream and communicate in another language is something that is difficult to imagine or comprehend until you have experienced it personally. Besides the obvious advantage of broadening ones communication abilities, there are other less obvious and yet important benefits worth mentioning. Scientists have recently discovered that learning a new language later in life stimulates parts of the brain originally set aside for language learning as a young child. These neuro-connectors that had gone long unused in our brain and once stimulated often improve memory and overall brain function.

When I shared that fact with Cristina she remarked that I should consider taking up four or five new languages. Simultaneously, in fact she added.

Many years ago (we are not counting), back when I was a foreign exchange student in Argentina, I stepped off the plane with very little Spanish ability other than the first chapter of my high school Spanish book. After a week there and relying on those around me who spoke English I realized that I needed a crash course to learn the local Spanish dialect of Castellano. The language sounded so beautiful and as a young man with raging hormones I knew it was the only way I would be able to talk to all the beautiful women around me. With that noble inspiration I dedicated myself to learn fifty new words in Spanish a day. I would look up the new words each night in my Spanish-English dictionary, writing them down on the pages of a small notebook I would carry in my back pocket.

That little notebook went with me everywhere.

Taking advantage of any spare moment awarded me I would study the pages and attempt using each of the words several times that day in my broken Spanish conversation. I repeated that routine for the weeks that followed and after three months I calculated that I had learned over five thousand new words. I was able to begin to actually communicate with these people that before I could have sworn were speaking some rare Mandelin dialect for all I knew.

In time my grammar improved solely by practice and continued use of my newly acquired language skills. I don’t recall one person who ridiculed me when I erred (which was quite often) and I found that most were more than happy to help me in forging a conversation. All of us have had that experience with someone attempting to learn English at one time or another. I will admit that on more than one occasion I used it as a transparent ploy solely to initiate a conversation with a beautiful member of the fairer sex.

Today I speak Spanish as easily as I speak English and it has become as much a part of me as my green eyes and receding hairline.

Learning to communicate in Spanish is learning more about the Mexico we have come to love and so many of us now call home. It will open your eyes to the deeper, richer side of Baja California that you perhaps never knew existed before.

You will be able to attend shows, theater and events in Spanish with a new appreciation and understanding. You will begin to lose the fear of stepping outside your personal comfort zone and begin to explore the side of Mexico that I have come to know and love. A country with rich history, cultural roots and traditions brought to life with so much color and flavor. I could never fully paint that picture in English anymore than I could translate a Spanish Love song completely with all of its rich feeling and deep emotions. Maybe you'll even try listening to Spanish radio or see what all the fuss is about on those Telenovelas?

Spanish is the language of romance, love and so much more. Many of us have heard the calling of the song that draws us to the Baja California peninsula and Spanish is the language of the seducing lyrics to her song.

Whether you start with fifty words a day, ten or even one you will begin to open yourself up to see and be able to fully integrate into the art, music, culture and community of this wonderful place. Becoming a true foreign ambassador will allow many here who don’t speak English to learn a bit more about you as well.

Along the way I suspect that you will discover as I have, that the true reward lies in that we ultimately learn much more about ourselves…
Old 05-12-09, 12:42 PM   #2
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Default Re: Art, Culture and Language... Outside Your Comfort Zone?

This would be a good post to move to the Spanglish forum. Or maybe at least to a link to it. Want to make me a moderator?

Old 05-12-09, 12:53 PM   #3
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Default Re: Art, Culture and Language... Outside Your Comfort Zone?

Originally Posted by beachbum
Want to make me a moderator?

Will you agree to fanatically enforce the no hijacking rule?
Old 05-12-09, 01:59 PM   #4
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Default Re: Art, Culture and Language... Outside Your Comfort Zone?

I've read a little here and there about a concept called "cognitive flexibility." One of it's theories says that the world appears differently to someone depending upon the language he/she is contemplating it in.

I can't think in Spanish but yet still feel like a different person even when I try to speak a little.

One thing I did discover, once I was able to understand a bit, is how much more similar we all are than I had imagined before. I think people that can't understand much at all imagine/project a whole lot about people they can't talk with than actually exists.

I remember what a good laugh we all had when we were sitting at the beach cooking hamburgers for dinner. A friend that spoke only English remarked "Wow; I'm surprised that you guys like hamburgers too!" to some Mexican friends...

That was a good one. :mrgreen:
Old 05-12-09, 06:26 PM   #5
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Default Re: Art, Culture and Language... Outside Your Comfort Zone?

Mexicans Eat Hamburgers????

Old 07-02-09, 10:33 PM   #6
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Default Re: Art, Culture and Language... Outside Your Comfort Zone?

Would you accept a piece about Art, Music and Culture in San Miguel de Allende, Mx.? It was published in an Art periodical in which I also wrote reviews on individual artists' work. I retain publishing rights. Thanks, B.G.

Old 07-03-09, 06:35 AM   #7
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Default Re: Art, Culture and Language... Outside Your Comfort Zone?

Of course Tony, look forward to it...
Old 07-03-09, 11:51 AM   #8
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Default Re: Art, Culture and Language... Outside Your Comfort Zone?

I have had the pleasure of teaching some old dogs new tricks here in Asuncion. You CAN learn enough spanish...its easy...just take it at your own was said above...learn ten or five or one word a day...but do it...get out there and stumble along...share the learning with a new amigo...they want to learn words...ask them what something is called...write it down...and that's how you start.
I didnt speak a word of spanish when I first came here, nor did i ever study it....i just asked people how to say things and began the process.
Speaking spanish opens a new world of rich experiences for you...YOU CAN DO IT! spanish is easy and forgiving...just make up your mind to learn's fun.
Juan & Shari invite you to check out our little paradise at
Old 07-04-09, 08:17 AM   #9
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Default Re: Art, Culture and Language... Outside Your Comfort Zone?

I keep trying to tell friends down here that investing 15 minutes per day in improving their Spanish will dramatically improve their experience living here. until you actually try it you will never know...

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